In a sport that has lost the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jay Wright and Jim Boeheim to retirement over the past several years, John Calipari stands as one of the towering coaching figures remaining in college basketball.
If a recent tier ranking by The Athletic is any indication, though, that status might be slipping away from the Kentucky coach. Calipari was not among the eight coaches placed in the top tier of a ranking of men’s college basketball published Wednesday by The Athletic. The list was put together by three of the outlet’s college basketball writers and was reviewed by various figures around the sport — multiple former coaches, a high-profile grassroots director, a search firm head and a player-turned-analyst, among others.
The Wildcats’ 14th-year coach was in Tier 1 of the rankings last season, but fell from that perch after his team went 22-12 and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Calipari is the only active coach with a national championship who was not included in the top tier.
What’s equally notable is who remained in there as Calipari fell: former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who is entering his first season at St. John’s after spending the previous three years at Iona.
Pitino, like Calipari, was in the top tier of the rankings in 2022, which was the first year The Athletic compiled them.
The seven other coaches in Tier 1 this year are:
Kansas’ Bill Self
Virginia’s Tony Bennett
Baylor’s Scott Drew
Houston’s Kelvin Sampson
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo
Gonzaga’s Mark Few
UConn’s Dan Hurley
Of that group, only Hurley is a new addition from the 2022 tier list: He led the Huskies on a dominant run to the national title last season.
Among the coaches with Calipari in the second tier are Tennessee’s Rick Barnes, Auburn’s Bruce Pearl, UCLA’s Mick Cronin, Purdue’s Matt Painter, Xavier’s Sean Miller, Arkansas’ Eric Musselman and Alabama’s Nate Oats.
Calipari’s stumble in the rankings comes on the heels of an underwhelming three-year stretch in which Kentucky has gone 57-36, including a 9-16 mark in the pandemic-altered 2020-21 season. During the time, the Wildcats have failed to win an SEC regular season championship, SEC tournament title or advance past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Calipari has a chance to turn that around in 2023-24 with a team that is No. 16 in the preseason US LBM Coaches Poll after securing 247Sports’ top-ranked 2023 recruiting class, a haul that includes three of the outlet’s top six players.
Pitino arrives at St. John’s after a successful three-year run at Iona, where he led the Gaels to two NCAA Tournament appearances and went 40-9 in conference play. His return to a major-conference program was made easier after an independent NCAA panel last November cleared him of any wrongdoing in Louisville’s recruitment of former five-star prospect Brian Bowen in 2017, which ultimately led to Pitino’s ouster after 16 seasons coaching the Cardinals.
Current Louisville coach Kenny Payne was in the seventh and final tier of the rankings. One analyst who had a Louisville game last season describing their pregame shootaround as “a disaster” and the “worst shootaround I’ve ever witnessed” to The Athletic.
The full list can be viewed here.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Kentucky’s John Calipari below Rick Pitino in coach tier rankings